Sectarianism at the People of Israel

by Ciprian IVAS

Tintoretto - The Jews in the Desert

      There was undoubtedly a high degree of cohesion among the Jewish people throughout its history in the attitude towards their Jewish religion seen as a unified doctrine representing the essence specificity of this people. We can even say that the religion of Torah has always represented the identity of the Jewish people inclusively at the individual level, for each Jew, until nowadays. This doesn’t mean that throughout history practitioners of this religion had an uniform opinion on teaching and on religious practice. Judaism in certain periods of its history was a bunch of “official” sects with doctrines which sometimes differed clearly even to certain fundamental issues, going to challenge others. Historian Flavius ​​Joseph presents four main sections that are blatantly by the number of members and the active role played in Hebrew society.

      Of the four stands undoubtedly two, especially through their activism in social and even political: the Sadducees and Pharisees.

      The Sadducees were a group of priests. Their name came from one of Solomon’s Temple priests, Zadok. They were close by the great aristocratic families. Unlike the Pharisees they did not recognize the tradition and observed just the letter of the law. For this, some researchers call them the “literalistic sect”. The Sadducees did not recognize the concepts of immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body and the angelic hierarchy, the central ideas in the doctrine of the Pharisees.

       Instead, Pharisees were not priests. They were secular teachers of Torah. This sect found echo especially among the middle class in cities. Their name came from “separating” of what was declared immoral, impure, defiled. After the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, the Pharisees gained spiritual control over the Hebrew people and the rabbinical Judaism was born. Rabbinic form of Judaism requires each practitioner to become “like God” and the goal is awaiting the Coming of the Messiah at the “end of times”.

      The two main sects, the Sadducees and Pharisees formed a coalition “elders Council” called Gerousia, established by the Maccabean kings.

      The third on the scale of importance is the Essene sect. Most researchers attribute them the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch. The Essenes believed that they lived the end of times. This idea emerges from the writings already mentioned as well as others such as the Book of Baruch and Nehemiah. The Essenes were a group who lived apart from society, in unpopulated places. They lived an ascetic living in communities. The property was common and dealt with study, work and prayer together under a rigorous discipline. They practiced ritual bathing and eating together. A branch of the Essene practiced strict celibacy.

      Fourth sectarian group within the Jewish religion was represented by zealots or “revolutionaries”. They agreed with the doctrine of the Pharisees except unrecognized worldly leadership of the country. Their dictum was “King is God only.” They could be considered pioneers of modern doctrine of anarchy. They are also called “Sicari” because they always wore on them a specific form of a knife which did not hesitate to use it in attacks on the Roman occupiers.

* painting by Tintoretto, The Jews in the Desert.

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